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David Zax

A View from David Zax

What’s on TV at CES

Deals trump hardware for import in Las Vegas this week.

  • January 8, 2013

In the tidal wave of gadget-related news coming out of CES today, some of the most interesting currents have had to do with television.

First, there’s the hardware, pure and simple. Most people are going gaga over the massive 4K OLED displays being announced; both Sony and Panasonic have presented such sets. (For a quick refresher on 4K, which essentially means a TV has incredibly high resolution, see this earlier post of mine. And for a refresher on OLED tech–and its expense–see “Would You Pay $8,000 for a TV?”)

But I’ve noted here before that I’m skeptical that hardware is going to be the main selling point of TVs of the future. The Atlantic Wire did some digging and found numbers to match my suspicion: for instance, that 68% of consumers are pretty happy with the TV they already own (per NPD). People are frankly more concerned about how confusing their remote controls are than they are about how fancy their TV screen is.

Hardware’s a red herring here; as I’ve mentioned before (see “The Gordian Knot of Television”), what everyone’s waiting for is not a fanciest piece of tech, but rather something more like the killer app. We’re waiting to see who wins the battle to bring us the shows we want to watch, when we want to watch them, on the devices we want to watch them on–and at the best price.

In that regard, amidst all the drooling over the 4K OLED sets (and I’m sure, were I in Vegas now, I’d be drooling too), Jeanine Poggi’s post on AdAge sums up the most important developments out of CES related to TV right now. Poggi focuses not on hardware, but on the novel way various content providers will be getting it to you.

AT&T, for instance, will be offering a video streaming service it’s calling the U-verse Screen Pack. For $5 a month, U-verse pay-TV subscribers can watch movies on demand on TVs and connected devices. (The price notably undercuts that of Netflix and Hulu, but it’s launching with a measly 1,500 titles.)

Bravo, meanwhile, announced its first connected TV app. The app will go live on connected Samsung TVs, as well as connected Samsung Blu-ray players and via Google TV. The free app will be monetized through advertising, reportedly.

One of the most fascinating–and aggressive–moves has come from Dish network. Last year, Dish announced a device that would send its signal to all TVs in a house. This year, Dish is expanding that capability to connected devices that can travel outside the house, by partnering with Slingbox (whose tech “slings” a live signal into the internet, as the AP explains). This helpful pushing of content to your iPad could anger networks, by cutting into other revenue like iTunes. Being on the receiving end of lawsuits isn’t out of the question, Dish’s CEO acknowledged. The whole thing is pretty reminiscent of the soon-to-massively-expand Aereo, only with a satellite TV company intriguingly at the helm (see “Aereo Has Landed”).

It’s interesting to see a TV company behave in a disruptive fashion itself; it’s equally interesting to see a cable provider begin to bring a disruptive startup into the fold, co-opting what once seemed like a renegade tech. That’s more or less what’s happening, finally, with Time Warner Cable’s deal with Roku. Those two have put together a deal that will send live channels to Roku boxes.

Increasingly, devices that seemed to be tools for cord-cutters may instead serve the cable companies, by making their offerings more attractive to consumers.

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